Personal Chairs for Life Sciences Researchers

Published on 19 January 2021

Sarah Coulthurst, Gopal Sapkota and Satpal Virdee have been promoted to Personal Chair (Professor) as part of the 2020 Annual Review process for academic staff.

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Sarah Coulthurst will become Professor of Microbial Interactions, Gopal Sapkota will become Professor of Disease Signalling and Satpal Virdee will become Professor of Chemical Biology.

Inke Nathke, Interim Dean of School said, “I would like to personally and on behalf of the School congratulate Sarah Coulthurst, Gopal Sapkota, and Satpal Virdee on their well-deserved promotions to Personal Chair. It reflects the recognition of their contributions to their respective research fields and to the School, which have been outstanding.”

Sarah Coulthurst

Sarah Coulthurst is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow and deputy head of the Division of Molecular Microbiology. The overall goal of her research is to better understand how bacterial pathogens can successfully cause disease, with the long-term aim of utilising this knowledge to develop new antimicrobial strategies. Her research has involved two closely-linked areas: firstly, inter-bacterial interactions, namely the mechanisms which bacteria use to communicate, compete with and kill each other; and, secondly, protein secretion systems, which are molecular machines that bacteria use to attack other organisms. Much of this work has focused on the bacterial Type VI secretion system (T6SS). The work in Sarah’s lab has provided new insights into the molecular mechanisms and importance of the T6SS, including the toxins it delivers, its ability to kill fungal cells and its widespread role in inter-bacterial competition.

Sarah said, “I am delighted and honoured to receive a Personal Chair from the University of Dundee. This would not have been possible without the hard work of all the members of my team, and the support of my colleagues, collaborators, mentors and family. The School of Life Sciences has been an inspirational and enjoyable place to work for the last eleven years and I am also immensely grateful to the charitable and government funding bodies who have supported our work.”

Gopal Sapkota

Gopal Sapkota, a Programme Leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit, has undertaken ground-breaking work in deciphering the mechanism by which the cellular localization and activity of protein kinase CK1 family is controlled by the FAM83 class of scaffold proteins. He has also developed a new technology termed Affinity-directed PROtein Missile (AdPROM) system that is leading to new ways of targeting specific protein fates, including targeted degradation.

Gopal said “This is a recognition for the tremendous amount of hard work that my past and present research group members put in over the years, which have led to some outstanding discoveries and new technologies that are now benefitting many labs in academia and industry. The excellent resources and support teams we have within the MRC-PPU and the breadth of world-class expertise and collegiality we have within the School of Life Sciences in Dundee makes it tremendously easy for me to explore and test new ideas efficiently. I have been fortunate to have collaborated with some of the leading international experts on some of our projects and discoveries. Our future research efforts will look into understanding how we can translate our findings to understand and interfere with human diseases.” 

Satpal Virdee

Satpal Virdee, a Programme Leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit, has developed the first class of activity-based probes that that react with active E3 ligases. These probes have revolutionised the ability to measure the in vivo activity of key cellular E3 ligases such as Parkin that is involved in Parkinson’s disease. Unexpectedly, Satpal’s probes have led to the discovery of new classes of E3 ligase one of which is MYCBP2 that is involved in Wallerian axon degeneration. Strikingly, Satpal discovered that MYCBP2 is not only a new class of E3 ligase but that it ubiquitylated threonine residues instead of lysine. From elegant structural and functional studies Satpal’s work revealed that MYCBP2 operates through a novel mechanism and showed that inhibiting MYCBP2 blocks Wallerian degeneration suggesting that MYCBP2 is a potential drug target to better treat neurological disorders.

Satpal said “I am delighted with the award of a chair position at the University of Dundee. My team work very hard tackling challenging biological problems and we have made progress we can all be very proud of. We are excited about our future directions of research and further exploring the medical potential of our previous discoveries.” 

Dario Alessi Director of the MRC-PPU said “I warmly congratulate Gopal and Sapkota for their richly deserved promotion. It has been a privilege to witness their progress, dedication to medical research and opening new fields of investigation. They are enormously talented and will undoubtedly continue expanding our boundaries of knowledge in phosphorylation and ubiquitylation biology.” 

Story category Appointments